Having won international awards for his first film, The Desolate One, Daniel Boocock is about to unveil his second work, The Neolith, shot on the Isle of Skye. Tony McDonough reports
Award-winning Liverpool independent film-maker Daniel Boocock is set to showcase his latest work at Liverpool’s FACT arts centre.
Daniel, from Garston, scooped awards for his first work, The Desolate One, in 2017 and has now completed a new film, The Neolith, filmed entirely on the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland. Via his production company, Claret and Blue, he raised the funding by crowdfunding, self-finance and private finance.
Inspired from childhood to get into film-making, his talent was recognised for The Desolate One in Liverpool’s International Film Festival, Copenhagen’s annual CPH fest and with a platinum award at World Fest Houston in Texas.
Over the past 12 months he secured permission from the Highland Commission to shoot on Skye. It will be seen for the first time at an invitation-only viewing at Picturehouse @ FACT on October 23.
LBN caught up with Daniel ahead of the screening and he told us all about making The Neolith…
What happened when you first told people about your ambitions to make The Neolith?
In the beginning some people asked me how I was going to pull this off. They asked about funding, insurance, getting people and kit out there and negotiating lochs and mountains. They asked me about the weather, if it would be safe and how wild the environment was. So many questions – but I just smirked,
From the start I knew the risks. Logistically, creatively, financially. I’d been preparing for them for a long time. I had the answers and I knew I could pull it off. I wasn’t fazed in the sense you might think. I was aware. But not fazed.
If anything I was excited at the prospect. The Neolith is a next level kind of short film. It’s giant. Nobody else has done anything like it. Creating the platform to actually do it was always going to be the tricky part.
So how did the whole project start to come together?
The right people at the right time saw the work and effort I had been putting in for several years. Many trips back and forth to Skye. Planning, preparing, doing what needs to be done, putting money towards the film etc. They saw the progression I made with my last short film, the preparation I was putting in for this one, the sacrifices I was making, the small victories I had here and there. The festival wins.
Then came the rejections, the letdowns from people and organisations, the yeses which turned into nos. The flat out non-responses. Still, I kept pressing forward regardless. I had to take sidesteps here and there and at times I was forced to take a step back but then I would go again with a bit more vigour. More hunger. More will.
The right people knew I was serious, knew I was talented – they knew I was ready. At the right moment they came on board with me. It all happened when it was supposed to happen and it’s worked out.
Tell us about the shoot on Skye
The production went pretty well considering what we had at our disposal and the environment itself. Skye can be a tough place to navigate especially in remote locations. Though I knew what I wanted and what needed to be done to get the right shots.
My line was ‘when we hit, we hit. We need to keep hitting.’ Time was always against us and physically it was a test. Though that was all part of the fun for me. Ultimately I’d say to people ‘When are we ever going to do something like this again?’
Wading through streams at night looking up to the Milky Way. Sitting on old stone bridges under so many stars. We shot within the centre of extinct volcanoes. Heard ancient calls echo through the mountains. Watched and filmed sunsets and the tide on spectacular black sandy beaches.
We filmed fight scenes with axes and daggers amidst bracken filled valleys in blood red light. I even had people in pools of water amid the wind and rain. At night I’d chill out by log fires sipping whisky with some amazing views of the landscape right in front of me. On certain days some of us had the chance to fly through the ocean on massive speedboats.
We filmed in some monumental places. There was lots of laughter. People will remember that for a long time. It was hard for me to have a quiet moment because I was always busy and running on adrenaline but when I did have some quiet time I understood that what I was doing with some of these people was very unique. I had seen that in my minds eye for a long time.
How did you feel when you started to see the footage?
There is a quote in film that goes something along the lines of ‘you write one film, shoot a second and edit a third’. That’s sort of true. Creativity always evolves. I knew it on the shoot and I can see it even more clearly while I edit. Though the essence of the original script remains the same.
The cinematography, production design, costume, sound and makeup all turned out the way I envisioned so in that sense I’m pleased. My own creative instinct was to take the project in a more authentic direction and to focus on those who could portray that best. By doing that the films strengths have been enhanced and any weaknesses have been minimised. It was always going to be good but now I feel it’s better than the initial blueprint I had.
How has the edit gone – are you confident you’ll have it done in time for the first screening?
I like the edit. That’s the alchemic part where you really see the film transform in front of you. It’s very intricate with few distractions. Basically just a few of us go into our own caves and don’t really come out until our individual parts of the process are all done. It’s a small unit. I like moving the images and scenes around and getting a feel for what fits best.
The film is cut and now its in the colour grade and sound design processes. After that I’ll test it on a cinema screen before it’s exhibited and distributed. It has to be finished to make the deadlines for some of the top festivals next year.
What inspired you to make The Neolith?
Me. My life. My own instinct, experiences and imagination mixed with some mystic stuff and a couple of things I’ve read. There is a lot to all that but from a cinematic perspective I have saw a lot of projects over the years that have been backed or celebrated which in my opinion have been pretty low level, familiar, or play to a social trend, theme or taboo.
There isn’t much creativity, ambition or style to them. Especially in shorts. There’s no real longevity there that I feel could further be expanded on to win over audiences on a consistent basis at a ‘higher’ level. I’m the total opposite of that. My work stands out. It’s designed to win a crowd.
Now that I know the lay of the land I don’t waste time, watch or go near any of those other types of short projects. Even the filmmakers who I admire most. When I see their first short films then look to mine there is no comparison. It isn’t the technology that makes the difference either. The Neolith shines. It really does. People will understand that soon enough.
What was the best moment for you during the process – creatively and personally?
Creatively, was when I told Dan Boie and Jak (actors) that the story had evolved to go in their direction. I was toying with that in my head before we even got to Skye. Early on I went out filming. The same morning Dan and Jak spent most of the time in the mountains in and out of character. Talking about their lives, families, the film itself, their character dynamics, life experiences and other things.
They came to see me that evening. Jak had an idea to rehearse the scenes between him and Dan with dialogue so that when the time come to shoot without dialogue their characters would know more than what they initially would have. We practised that for a little while and their performances became better. It worked so well.
When you see them on screen you’ll sense what they are saying to one another without them speaking in a ‘normal’ way. Communication without words. It can be so much more powerful and intense plus it adds to the mystery of the piece. Those two really know what conflict is. It’s almost like there is no adversary. You’re against yourself. They have a great mentality and natural presence. There is a realness to them. I didn’t have to say much.
The three of us kind of knew what we were each thinking with just a look. The grizzly and the stud I nicknamed them. It was pure creativity with no agendas, egos, conflicts or any self-interest. They trusted me to do my thing and I trusted them to do theirs. I knew they would give me everything and leave nothing in the tank if necessary. They’d been through things in life that they could use on screen. Other actors had their moments in their own way, but I enjoyed the process with them. We will work together again I’m sure.
What happens next with The Neolith and what comes after that?
Creatively I focus on what I want now. I know what I am capable of achieving. It’s only a matter of time before the next big leap is taken. The Neolith will make its mark at a high level then I’ll raise the stakes once again. I’m looking towards features and some high-end stuff now. I’m ready for that.
Everything about The Neolith was like a feature. Plus it’s high-end in the way it looks and flows. It couldn’t have been better preparation. I know that when audiences see it it will certainly leave an impression.
It’s so vast and ambitious for a short. I’m not even sure calling it a short does it justice – it feels more like a pilot, or a prelude to something bigger. I honestly feel people won’t be able to their eyes off it. It’s just that kind of project. I know my time is coming and I’m certainly laying the foundations to make more of these creative ventures on an even bigger scale with the right people.